(NEW YORK)— PEN America sharply criticized approval today by the New College of Florida trustees to close the public college’s gender studies department. The free expression organization noted that the Florida ban closely mirrors action by the authoritarian government of Hungary’s Prime Minister Viktor Orban in 2018.

Jeremy C. Young, Freedom to Learn program director at PEN America, said: “The New College board’s abolition of gender studies is a repressive act that echoes the actions of a repressive foreign government. Indeed, it is an exact copy of what Hungary did in 2018, in a ban that irreparably damaged intellectual freedom in Hungarian universities and led directly to even more extreme restrictions on campus free expression. Banning academic departments for the viewpoints they reflect is the ultimate violation of academic freedom. Gender studies has been part of American higher education for decades, and the program recently received a statement of unanimous support from every member of the New College faculty. Having spent time in Hungary recently with the lawmakers who carried out that country’s ban, Trustee Christopher Rufo is clearly determined to import European authoritarianism to New College, trampling faculty members’ and students’ right to intellectual freedom. That his fellow board members would support him in doing so is a scandal.”

Rufo, the trustee and conservative activist, motioned to eliminate the gender studies department, which the board approved over the objections of faculty trustee Amy Reid and the entire faculty. Reid alleges that the move was done in violation of the state’s sunshine laws, preventing the public from being informed ahead of the vote.

An early draft of Florida’s HB 266, a sweeping educational gag order and DEI ban, included a statewide ban on gender studies in higher education, but it was removed in later versions. Wyoming has twice attempted unsuccessfully to pass a measure defunding the University of Wyoming’s gender and women’s studies department. Rufo has recently praised the government of Hungary, whose leaders implemented a nearly identical ban on gender studies at universities in 2018. 

About PEN America

PEN America stands at the intersection of literature and human rights to protect open expression in the United States and worldwide. We champion the freedom to write, recognizing the power of the word to transform the world. Our mission is to unite writers and their allies to celebrate creative expression and defend the liberties that make it possible. To learn more visit PEN.org

Contact: Suzanne Trimel, [email protected], 201-247-5057